Few people have been with 10,000 dying veterans; five VA hospice nurses have. What these nurses witnessed is providing lessons for the rest of the world. The lessons are about a process for attaining personal peace, and ironically, these lessons about peace have come from people who were trained for war. The nurses discovered a phenomenon that has become identified as “Soul Injury” -- a phenomenon that doesn’t quite fit PTSD criteria. “PTSD impacts the brain; Soul Injury impacts a person’s ‘being’,” says one of the nurses, Marie Bainbridge. A Vietnam Veteran herself, Bainbridge says that Soul Injury is also more encompassing than the Moral Injury that the professional literature identifies. 

At death, veterans uncovered two barriers that separated them from their soul – from their sense of self. Those two barriers were: unmourned loss/hurt and unforgiven guilt/shame. Learning how to grieve losses/hurts and learning how to forgive others and themselves for what they thought they should or should not have done became a liberating force that allowed the veterans in hospice to die healed.

The five nurses started Opus Peace, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission of taking the Soul Injury message to people who are not veterans and to people who are not dying. “Soul Injury is fueled by fear of emotional pain and this fear is responsible for numbing behaviors that subtly and not-so-subtly sabotage peoples’ lives,” says Opus Peace founder, Deborah Grassman. She adds: “Learning how to self-compassionately connect with the part of self holding the pain and shame allows people to re-connect with their soul – with who they really are.”

The Soul Injury concept has now evolved to become a national movement that raises awareness about how to identify and respond to Soul Injury. A campaign that petitions Congress to make January national Soul Injury awareness month has been undertaken. It might be an answer that helps address the individual and collective unrest that plague many people and communities. Afterall, 10,000 dying veterans may have lessons that the rest of us need to learn.